Sleep problems are associated with hypersensitivity to touch in children with autism Academic Article uri icon


  • Background: Sensory abnormalities and sleep disturbances are highly prevalent in children with autism, but the potential relationship between these two domains has rarely been explored. Understanding such relationships is important for identifying children with autism who exhibit more homogeneous symptoms. Methods: Here we examined this relationship using the Caregiver Sensory Profile and the children9s sleep habit questionnaires, which were completed by parents of 69 children with autism and 62 frequency age-matched controls. Results: In line with previous studies, children with autism exhibited more severe sensory abnormalities and sleep disturbances than age-matched controls. The sleep disturbance scores were strongly associated with touch and oral sensitivities in the autism group and with touch and vestibular sensitivities in the control group. Hyper sensitivity towards touch, in particular, exhibited the strongest relationship with sleep disturbances in the autism group and single-handedly explained 24% of the variance in sleep disturbance scores. In contrast, sensitivity in other sensory domains such as vision and audition was not associated with sleep quality in either group. Conclusions: While it is often assumed that sensitivities in all sensory domains are similarly associated with sleep problems, our results suggest that hyper sensitivity towards touch exhibits the strongest relationship to sleep disturbances when examining children autism. We speculate that hyper sensitivity towards touch interferes with sleep onset and maintenance in a considerable number of children with autism who exhibit severe sleep disturbances. Studies that examine the effects of tactile sensory therapies/aids on sleep quality and behavioral improvement in these children are, therefore, highly warranted.

publication date

  • January 1, 2018